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Dario Fo's The Open Couple
Published on Tuesday, 17 May 2011

5 stars

The Master Mariner
21, 28-29 May, 7:00pm-8:00pm; 9-11, 17-18, 24-25 May, 8:00pm-9:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 18+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.

Round and round the Brighton rock the ragged rascal ran!  With romantic misdeeds, fast-paced physicality and a progressive state of undress, this new production of Dario Fo’s Open Couple owes much the canon of classic farce.  But it has its thoughtful side too, and this finely-honed performance – with feet planted firmly on Brighton’s pebbly shores – lifts it far above the staples of seaside slap-and-tickle.

Open Couple

Seated, cabaret-style, round a room-above-a-pub at Brighton Marina, we’re eager eavesdroppers on an extended argument between a man who enjoys a choice of partners… and a woman who wants him to be hers alone.  When the cracks in their marriage grow too wide to ignore, he persuades her to experiment with her own bit on the side. But inevitably, the green-eyed monster starts to peek in, and reports of an impossibly-perfect rival for his wife’s affections test just how deep their mutual affection lies.

It’s not the most highbrow of plots, but for simple entertainment I’ve yet to find its match this Fringe.  Much of the fun derives from sheer force of personality – and the two actors, Heather Rayment and Samuel Dutton, didn’t miss a beat nor flub a single line throughout their non-stop hour of quarrelling.  The two performances are equally strong, but it’s Rayment who has the more intriguing character.  She’s centred and proper, yet filled with insecurities, and comes out with the most unexpectedly frank observations about her husband’s philandering ways.

Director Nicola Haydn proves once again why she’s so well-regarded in this city, with an energetic staging that notes the room’s physical limitations and deftly steps around them.  There’s no set to speak of – yet with its open spaces and the yachts bobbing outside, the incongruously quaint venue carried clever echoes of a yuppie studio flat.  There are neat, subtle moments of visual randomness (I particularly liked the teapot which doubles as a gun) and the physical comedy is intelligently restrained, with enough knockabout to raise a giggle but not so much we’re distracted from the script.

And that’s a wise choice, since the script deserves our full attention.  Fo’s words are enveloping and sparkling, filled with wonderfully surprising turns of phrase and catty put-downs from our warring couple.  I admired, too, the sensitive reworking which settles the action in modern-day Brighton, an artistic heresy that Fo reportedly endorses and approves.  Were the editor’s pen less skilfully wielded, the contemporary references might seem clanging and embarrassing – but here the additions run seamlessly through the plot, capturing the essence of Fo’s Open Couple and bringing them triumphantly home.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.